For better or worse,
all the things your parents did or didn’t do when you were a kid helped shape you into the person you are today. And that includes having anxiety and/or depression. While it’s unfair to pin everything on one parent, it’s super helpful to consider how your mom gave you anxiety — especially due to the super tight mom-child bond (though this could apply to your father as well).
“Parents play a very large role in the development of
anxiety, both biologically and environmentally,” clinical psychologist Julia Turovsky, Ph.D. , tells Bustle. “About 65% of our temperament is related to our genes, and anxious parents tend to produce anxious children. But it goes beyond genetics — there are many behaviors anxious parents engage in to create an environment for people to become even more anxious.”
You’ll see all the different reasons why your
mom makes you feel anxious listed below. But what’s super important to know is how changeable it all is, especially once you venture out on your own. “The first step is recognizing that you may have unhelpful anxiety — the kind that holds you back and makes you worried, rather than the kind that is useful and helps you plan out tough situations,” Turovsky says.
From there, you can examine the relationship you have with your mom or dad,
establish boundaries with her, and figure it all out in therapy. “ Cognitive behavioral therapy is the treatment of choice for anxiety disorders,” Turovsky says. “It works and people can get better.” Below are 18 ways your parent may have contributed to your anxiety, according to experts.
She Demanded “Perfection”
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Any mom who demands their kid be “perfect” will be more likely to set them up for a life of anxiety. When you’re younger, this typically revolves around grades and school.
“You might remember having butterflies in your stomach expecting a [report card] fearing the disappointment that may come from your mother,”
Dr. Markesha Miller, a licensed psychotherapist, tells Bustle. “As an adult, this can transition into the anxiety that you may experience regarding your work performance and how you receive feedback.”
Her desire for perfection likely bled into other areas, too. According to clinical mental health specialist
Lindsay Kandra, LPC-I, QMHP, if your mom required you to be good at everything you tried (like instruments or sports) and acted awful if you “failed,” don’t be surprised if you feel anxious when you aren’t “perfect” or if you hit a few bumps in the road as an adult.
Your Mom Was Anxious
Genetics aside, if your mom had anxiety, she may have inadvertently passed it on to you by modeling fear and avoidance. Maybe she steered clear of public places, stuck to a strict routine, or even discouraged travel, all because she didn’t like it.
“Anxiety is strengthened by avoidance behaviors,”
Dr. Crystal I. Lee, a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. “So by teaching you to avoid anxiety-provoking situations, you never learned the necessary distress tolerance skills needed to manage your anxiety.” Cut to you struggling with new or potentially stressful situations as an adult.
She Has/Had Phobias
Newsflash: Your mom is human, so you can’t fault her for having
phobias or anxieties of her own. But it is helpful to consider how her fears may have rubbed off on you, like how she was afraid to drive, afraid of spiders, or afraid of heights.
It’s also possible your mom accidentally gave you phobias, even if she didn’t have one herself. “I’ve worked with children with phobias of spiders, for instance, where mothers felt responsible for causing this fear because they felt it their job to protect their children from the dangerous ones with repeated warnings,” counselor
Dr. Allison Davis tells Bustle.
Of course, the cool thing about anxiety and phobias is you can unlearn them as an adult by
stepping outside your comfort zone, just to prove it isn’t all that bad. It may also be helpful to see a therapist to learn better coping strategies.
She Has Always Been Extremely Unpredictable
Think back to the way your house felt growing up. If your mom was tuned in and loving one moment and then absent and
emotionally unavailable the next, it very well may have left you feeling mentally shaky and anxious as an adult.
“This is because, as a child, you didn’t know what kind of treatment you’d get from your mother,” Lee says. “As a result, you develop an
anxious attachment, which results in you feeling insecure, anxious, and clingy, as a child and then in relationships as an adult.”
Check in with yourself to see if you act this way in your current relationships, particularly romantic ones. If you find that you get really nervous about losing a partner or rely heavily rely on others to help you feel safe and secure, your mom’s unpredictability may be to blame.
She’s The One Who Needed You
Once you’re an adult, nothing’s better than having
your mom as a best friend — someone you can hang out with, confide in, laugh with over brunch, etc. But if she tried to pull the whole BFF thing when you were a kid, well… it very well may explain why you have anxiety.
“When this happens, children often feel a mix of privilege and overwhelm to be there for their mom, which can result in a
hero complex, an absence of a distinct sense of self, poor boundaries, and chronic and debilitating anxiety in adult relationships,” says licensed psychologist Kate Balestrieri, PsyD, CSAT-S.
You Had To Be The Mom
There’s also a term worth knowing called “
parentification,” which is when a child is forced to be the “parent” growing up. Maybe you helped your mom through breakups or raised younger siblings while she worked extra hours — it’s not healthy, either way. A 2015 study published in Journal of Family Psychology found that new mothers who’d been “parentified” as children found it difficult to engage with their own kids. If this is the case, it may help to attend therapy to unpack how it affected you.
Your Mom Was Super Critical
“Another major way your mother could have
increased your chances of having anxiety is being overly critical,” GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor, tells Bustle. “Being criticized, minimized, put down, and dismissed at a young age are all major ways people develop anxiety in adulthood.”
The reason? “A parent might intend that feedback to help you succeed, but like perfectionism, constant criticism can lead to you constantly feeling guarded, on edge, and afraid to take healthy risks,” Kandra says.
She Commented On Your Body
Another way this can lead to anxiety is if your
mom picked on your weight and/or made comments about your food, how much you ate, etc. As Kandra says, “This can lead to anything from anxiety and self-esteem struggles to more serious body dysmorphia and disordered eating.”
You Had To Walk On Eggshells Around Her
If your mom was explosive, intolerant, harshly disciplinary, or had a short fuse, the fear of her flipping out likely created an unstable living situation while you were growing up, Guarino says. Unfortunately, that can follow you around as an adult.
To move past the fear, it may help to begin
establishing your own independence and autonomy, especially if your mom still acts this way. “Your mother was a major influence in your life growing up, but now you are your own person,” Guarino says. It means you can create boundaries and choose how involved she is in your life. If you don’t want to, that’s 100% OK.
Your Mom Never Trusts Your Judgment
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Having a mom who doesn’t trust your judgment can be all sorts of detrimental. “If you heard ‘that’s not what you should be doing’ a million times, you’re likely to hear it when you’re on your own,” says licensed clinical psychologist
Dr. Kevin Hyde. “It’s that internal voice often leads to doubts about your own abilities and therefore have an anxiety reaction.”
The best way to
rebuild your confidence? “Start by making really small decisions, and take note when nothing terrible happens,” counselor Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C tells Bustle. “Build up to making bigger decisions as your confidence in yourself grows.”
She Downplayed Or Dismissed Your Emotions
How many times did your mom claim you were being dramatic or over-reacting? “When our parents minimize, dismiss, or tell us to ‘get over’ something, we learn that we are wrong to feel negative emotions,” therapist
Julie Williamson, LPC, NCC, RPT tells Bustle. And it very well may be why you get anxious when expressing yourself as an adult, or why you may feel the need to put on a “happy” face 24/7 — even though it stresses you out.
Her Tone Was Always Off
Consider how your mom spoke to you when you were little. Was her voice often sharp? Impatient? Annoyed? According to
Erin Dierickx, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, a weird tone can definitely trigger anxiety.
“It may lead to constant worries about your own reaction to things and to every detail of what is said, how it is communicated, and what it might mean,” Dierickx says. “In other words: anxiety.”
She Gives You The Silent Treatment
Does your mom give you the
silent treatment? Or did she do it a lot while you were growing up? If so, that could be another hidden cause of your current-day anxiety.
Anxiety stems from the unknown,” Dierickx says. “When we don’t know what people mean, or are confused and if we don’t get clarity on these things, we are at risk of anxiety filling in the gaps for us, tending to lean towards worst-case scenarios and ultimate fear.”
Your Mom Never Let You Go Out
If your mom was the type to
keep you home as a teen instead of letting you drive around and see friends, she may have inadvertently spiked your anxiety, according to Turovsky.
“Anxious parents tend to be risk-averse and communicate that to their kids,” she tells Bustle. “The world is dangerous, you may get hit by a car, catch a cold, get mugged, etc.” While these things might happen, sending the message that you have to
stay home or else likely did more harm than good.
She Micro-Managed You
Think back to the little things you did around the house as a kid, like loading the dishwasher, walking the dog, or wiping the kitchen counters. “Anxious parents tend to
micro-manage their children and control their environment,” Turovsky says. If your mom wanted things in a specific way, it may explain why you now feel less experienced, or why you feel extra anxious about running your own life.
Your Mom Calls 24/7
There’s talking to your mom and then there’s
talking to your mom, aka fielding her near-constant texts or phone calls. According to licensed mental health counselor Jacqueline Sager, some moms don’t know when to stop mothering. Yours might also struggle with boundaries, which means she might not respect the fact you have a life of your own.
While it’s fine to talk a lot and ask for advice and chitchat with your mom because you love her, take note if she gets weird/mad/sad if you try to be more independent or if you don’t answer the phone. According to Sager, this is a habit that can trigger anxiety.
She Has Nervous Energy
If your mom carries anxiety in her body, Sager says you may find yourself mimicking her mannerisms — especially if you live together or hang out a lot. Think tapping your foot, pacing around, looking out windows, etc. It’s good to recognize the habit before it turns into something more.
Your Mom Keeps Pressuring You
Is your mom pressuring you to get married, have kids, go to a “great” college, or get a certain job? “You’ll always feel like you have to please, perform, perfect, or prove yourself,” says
Lea Lester, LPC, a licensed professional counselor associate. And that can lead to anxiety due to guilt and unmet expectations.
mom has always triggered your anxiety, know that (unless she does a ton of self-reflection) she isn’t likely to stop anytime soon. “With this truth, it is important to remember we cannot change others,” Lester says. “We can only change our response(s) to them.” So give yourself permission to set boundaries, change your script, try new things, fail, make mistakes — and look for ways to better cope with your anxiety.
Nelemans, F. (2014). Maternal criticism and adolescent depressive and generalized anxiety disorder symptoms: a 6-year longitudinal community study. J Abnorm Child Psych. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24154713/
Valentino, N. (2015). Maternal history of parentification and warm responsiveness: The mediating role of knowledge of infant development. Journal of Family Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000112
Williams, L. (2015). Fear of the Unknown: Uncertain Anticipation Reveals Amygdala Alterations in Childhood Anxiety Disorders. Neuropsychopharmacology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4397401/
Dr. Julia Turovsky, therapist
Lindsay Kandra, LPC-I, QMHP, mental health specialist
Dr. Crystal I. Lee, clinical psychologist
Kate Balestrieri, PsyD, CSAT-S, licensed psychologist
Dr. Kevin Hyde, psychologist
Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, counselor
Dr. Markesha Miller, licensed psychotherapist
GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC, licensed mental health counselor
Julie Williamson, LPC, NCC, RPT, therapist
Erin Dierickx, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Dr. Kevin Hyde, licensed clinical psychologist
Jacqueline Sager, licensed mental health counselor
Lea Lester, LPC, licensed professional counselor associate